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Children’s right to make their voices heard

”Children’s rights and making their voices heard” was the plenary title when moderator Stecy Yghemonos, Executive Director of Eurocarers, presented the day’s first speaker, Tinna Rós Steinsdóttir, who works for the organisation Eurochild. One area of her responsibility is working with the children’s right to participation.

That Tinna Rós Steinsdóttir truly believes in her mission left no one in doubt. With strong commitment she pleaded for the children’s right to be heard, to be participatory and to have the possibility for essential play, which is the prerequisite for all children’s development, social interaction and well-being.

She used keywords such as security, participation and love.

–We adults have the task of helping children and youths to grow. These children living with a big responsibility for their parents who cannot sustain their parent role for different reasons, must receive the right support and assistance, she emphasised and then highlighted the overall issue of children’s possibilities to participate and be able to influence their situation.

 

Unclear information creates insecurity

–We adults must talk to and inform children so that they really understand. Unclear information only creates insecurity. We also know that if we ask children, they respond in a way that they think is the right answer; that is not the same as the child’s own perception.

The answer can often be made up in order to satisfy us adults, she stated. She recommended everyone to pay attention to this.

She also saw the issue of creating safety for children as a foundation for children’s opportunity for development. Lack of safety can negatively affect opportunities for growth for children, cautioned Tinna Rós Steinsdóttir, and she asked the important question:

Who protects the children when the parents are not able to protect them?

With the heading participation-empowerment, she stressed the importance of children and youths being listened to. But not in a passive way, but in-depth, one must really strive to understand children and youths. This again involves asking questions and listening in the right way.

–You must explain to the child that you are not looking for the right answer, but really want to hear what he or she thinks.

About play which is so important for development, Tinna Rós Steinsdóttir warned that children who bear too much responsibility do not allow themselves to play and have fun. This is something to consider and pay attention to.

She concluded as enthusiastic as she began by referring to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which 196 nations have ratified so far and which clearly presents the rights that children and youths have.

Parents’ rights have more weight than children’s

Stecy Yghemonos then welcomed Elizabet Näsman, Professor at Uppsala University.

She began her talk in turn by stating that Sweden is a relatively child-friendly society, and we are on the forefront of establishing the rights of children. At the same time, she added, there is much left to do in order for children and youths to benefit fully from their rights.

Elizabet Näsman was critical toward the legal system which to a large extent allows parents’ rights to outweigh the rights of children.

–The law is on the parents’ side, not on the children’s.

As an example she took the right of access, where children can be taken to a parent on compulsory terms, despite they absolutely do not want any contact. This happens even in some situations where the child feels fear.

We have unfortunately more focus on the families and parents, than on the individual child. In the contacts with authorities, children are often heard, but that is definitely not the same thing as being listened to. This needs to change, she stated.

Parallel strategies are needed

She highlighted more examples where adults in their professions listen more to the parents than to the child, and also examples of how parents can take advantage of or almost exert pressure on their children and teenagers. The surroundings must be more attentive here, Elizabet Näsman requested.

–We must develop the competence to have a double perspective, to see the problem partly out of the parents’ view and partly out of the child’s view. We must support children in risk-filled situations, but also develop good strategies to support parents. These are needed in parallel, said Elizabet Näsman

She also called for a changed approach in society:

–We need to work more with the attitudes and norms in society. All children should have the right to a dialogue and have the opportunity to tell their own story.

Tim Moore, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Child Protection Studies at the Austalian Catholic University and past president of Carers Australian, spoke about his involvement with children and young carers which began about 25 years ago.

He posed a critical question, what do we really mean when we talk about participation?

Must participate and get right information

Tim Moore also raised the issue of dialogue, and involvement must occur on many different levels in society.

But most of all, he stressed, as earlier speakers in the day had, young carers must become involved and get the right information, information that they understand so that they are not left in uncertainty or insecurity, for example, if parents are taken to the hospital or authorities have made plans for the family.

He quoted from an 11-year-old next of kin who described how she ”almost went crazy when she got home and the house was empty. The ambulance staff had not even left a message so that we could at least know mamma was taken to the hospital.”

Messages from the children

Tim Moore concluded with some important messages collected from children and youths he had met:

  • You must start by listening fully to children if you want their ideas.
  • Sometimes it is hard to talk; we need your help.
  • It is not a good idea to ask us if you are not prepared to do anything about it.
  • Sometimes you need to come in and take control.
  • You must act responsibly toward us, and also take responsibility for us.
  • Together we can manage almost everything!

Listen to children the right way

Conference participant, Sofia Lind, development manager for the Skolbim project at Uppsala University,

thought that the day’s first lectures gave a lot to think about:

–Elizabet Näsman I think is interesting because she dares to have a little more critical perspective. One thing that got my attention was she emphasised the important issue of parents’ rights, in a legal sense, often come before children’s and teenagers’ needs for protection. All three speakers pointed out that we also must become better at truly listening to children and youths, and also acting based on their accounts. I thought these were important messages.

 

Svend O. Andersen, Lendsforeningen ”Snack om det,” Denmark,

was also impressed with the morning’s session:

–I was captivated most by Tim Moore’s talk. The issues he raised I recognise well from our project, ”Snack om det, ” for children and young carers in Denmark. We work similarly and try first to identify what support measures children and youths need. It is important that you listen to children in the right way, to get it right, and also to give adequate information. We adults have the responsibility of making the information understandable, and we must be attentive that the children have understood the information correctly. We must always assume the children’s perspective.

Text: Agneta Berghamre Heins

Translation: Susan Raia Canali

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